Composers > Inspiration > The Voice as Pure Instrument
by Maureen Buja | March 9th, 2018

standard The Voice as Pure Instrument

 The Young Reinhold Gliére

The Young Reinhold Gliére

If there are two words that you cannot imagine in a row, it’s ‘coloratura’ and ‘concerto,’ but Russian composer Reinhold Glière wrote such a piece: his 1942 Concerto for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra in F Minor, Op. 82. This work resulted in the awarding of his first class Stalin Prize in 1946.

 Edita Guberova

Edita Guberova

This unique concerto features the voice as instrument – there are no words, just a pure sound.

Glière: Coloratura Soprano Concerto, Op. 82: I. Andante (Edita Guberova, soprano; Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra; Kurt Peter Eichhorn, cond.)
In the score, the composer says nothing about what kind of vocal sound the singer should make. There’s little indication of where the singer should breathe and it seems as though Glière imagined the voice as an instrument without limits.

Joan Sutherland

Joan Sutherland


This kind of freedom means that the singer, more than in any other normal singing genre, is free to be an instrument. The best instrument she can be, working on a lyrical basis provided by the composer.

When you listen to a highly experienced coloratura take the work, it assumes a different sound than you might have heard in the first recording.

Glière: Coloratura Soprano Concerto, Op. 82: I. Andante (Joan Sutherland, soprano; London Symphony Orchestra; Richard Bonynge, cond.)
 Natalie Dessay

Natalie Dessay

Even when taken by a singer with experience, the work doesn’t seem as free and flowing as in the hands of Joan Sutherland. Here, Natalie Dessay takes on the concerto and it seems subdued in comparison.

Glière: Coloratura Soprano Concerto, Op. 82: I. Andante (Natalie Dessay, soprano; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Michael Schønwandt, cond.)
 Dilbèr

Dilbèr

When we get away from the amazing part of the voice and listen to the orchestra, it’s hard to imagine that this was written in 1942. This is the year of Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony, Prokofiev’s Second String Quartet, Bruno Maderna’s Piano Concerto, and Copland’s Fanfare for the Modern Man. It’s hard to imagine a work that places itself further back in time than this one.

Glière: Coloratura Soprano Concerto, Op. 82: II. Allegro (Dilbèr, soprano; Malmö Opera Orchestra; Muhai Tang, cond.)
As a pure instrument, the voice is rarely exhibited in manner such as this. We’ll let Joan Sutherland have the final word on this!

Glière: Coloratura Soprano Concerto, Op. 82: II. Allegro (Joan Sutherland, soprano; London Symphony Orchestra; Richard Bonynge, cond.)
Her performance, of all the ones here, seems the most operatic in its delivery and, at the same time, the most exploiting the voice as pure instrument.

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